Paddlers lured on by promise of pushing through elusive point

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Paddlers lured on by promise of pushing through elusive point

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Kayaking in Abel Tasman, Martin Johnston
Martin Johnston and his partner Kaz switched tramping boots for kayak paddles in Abel Tasman National Park

We are on our summer break and the editorial office is closed until 17 January. In the meantime, please enjoy our Summer Hiatus series, an eclectic mix from our news and clinical archives and articles from The Conversation throughout the year. This article was first published in the 14 April edition


New Zealand Doctor Rata Aotearoa journalist Martin Johnston takes to the waters in Abel Tasman National Park

Paddling the watery tunnel through Yellow Point became something of a holy grail for us this summer. Finding it turned out to be nearly as elusive.

We probed a few metres further west, nosing into what looked like a tight cavern, only to see the proverbial light at the end

My partner Kaz and I had swapped our usual tramping boots for kayak paddles on a trip to Abel Tasman National Park west of Nelson.

We had lived in Nelson for a few years so had traipsed the lovely tracks and lounged on the park’s lovely beaches quite a bit.

Paddling the Abel Tasman coast has been on our list for a while. But, although our daughter is now a seafarer and both our children have paddled, Kaz and I had never learnt the difference between stern and bow.

We set out to fix that in December. An Auckland Sea Kayaks guide, in his single kayak, piloted us two novices in our double kayak around the inner Hauraki Gulf – out to Motukorea/ Browns Island and back to St Heliers beach.

Having survived that, with only sore arms and a desperate need to eat and sleep, we launched into our two-day trip at Abel Tasman.

We hired a double from R & R Kayaks and set off from Mārahau for the north-eastern horizon, or at least Te Pukatea Bay, where we had booked a night at the Department of Conservation campsite.

Te Pukatea and its horseshoe of bush-fringed golden sand is the quintessential Abel Tasman photo opportunity.

Unfounded fears

We were anxious about paddling without a guide. But the fine, mostly low-wind conditions, we experienced for our two-day there-and-back trip meant our fears were unfounded.

The highlight of day one was paddling about 900m away from the mainland – it felt like an oceanic voyage – to Adele Island to hear seals barking and watch them lumbering around their rocky colony.

The low point of day one was trying to find the elusive tunnel through Yellow Point. The R & R safety-briefing chap had explained how to find it but, when we failed, we surmised a plot for them to keep it as a secret “Spot X” for their guided clients.

Turned out we just hadn’t looked properly, as later that day, out on the water, we met another helpful R & R guy with more directions.

So on day two, while paddling home, we had a second crack by scouring the rocky walls of Yellow Point’s south-western side.

First we found a large cavern, which was fun to float into, but it was not a tunnel. We probed a few metres further west, nosing into what looked like a tight cavern, only to see the proverbial light at the end. We’d found it!

I was worried about getting stuck, but the usually cautious Kaz was right into it, so into the darkness we drifted. Pushing by hand off the walls, we manoeuvred around a couple of bends towards the exit to pop out into the brilliance of a cloudless January day.

It was such an unusual experience, we had to paddle around the point and do it a second time.

By then, foremost on my mind was Mārahau’s vast expanse of low-tide sand, and the risk of having to drag our boat up it, so, with holy grail ticked off, we cracked on with the paddles to home base.


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